Students rally at Capitol

By Rochelle McConkie, News Editor

The sun was shining, but the students who gathered on the state Capitol steps held open umbrellas and signs saying, “That rainy day is here.”

Hundreds of students from colleges and universities across the state assembled at the Capitol on Friday morning to demonstrate against the Utah Legislature’s proposed 19 percent budget cuts for higher education. Students urged lawmakers to tap into the Rainy Day Fund instead of raising tuition to make up for the lost capital.

“We want to show the Legislature that we will not take these budget cuts lying down,” said Jackson Olsen, executive vice president of the Associated Students of Utah State University who organized the rally.

The crowd mostly consisted of students from USU and Snow College, although students from the U and other universities also attended.

Utah State, which could be hit particularly hard by the budget cuts, held a rally at the Logan campus Wednesday in which the university’s president and student government leaders addressed the cuts. If the 19 percent cut is implemented, USU could lose $30 million, which could force the school to reduce its workforce by 663 positions over a six-month period, according to The Associated Press.

Students, administrators and lawmakers at the rally voiced concerns that cutting funding for higher education would further the economic crisis for the state by failing to prepare an educated workforce.

“Education is the solution, not the problem,” said Snow College President Scott Wyatt. “We are part of the great system that elevates people. It’s an investment. When things get tough, you don’t cut your investments.”

Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, told the crowd that the Legislature would likely restore half the cuts that were proposed a week earlier.

“The answer is yes,” Valentine said. “Higher education is the heart of this state. The answer is yes8212;we won’t ask more of higher education than we do of any other state budget.”

Following the rally, students packed the House of Representatives and Senate chambers, though they were asked to leave their signs outside. On the House floor, Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, recognized the students and Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, acknowledged the students in the Senate.

Students filled out cards to set up appointments with their senators and representatives to talk to them about the budget cuts. Olsen said he saw some representatives come out to talk to students.

“It seems to be working,” he said.

Sean Sekino, a junior in music education at the U, said he came to the rally because the College of Fine Arts has already had budget cuts.

“This is not only my future, but the state’s future,” Sekino said. “How can we build an educated workforce if we keep building tuition?”

Students organized largely through Facebook and e-mail. Some students said their professors encouraged them to attend the rally to voice concerns about the cuts. Other students came without encouragement.

“I cut class today to come,” said Mikele Dehaas, a freshman in international relations. “I do feel it’s very important to show our Legislature that we’re interested in the process and aware of what’s going on. I don’t believe in a secret Legislature.”

House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, encouraged students to help lawmakers understand the impact of the difficult decisions they have to make.

“This is not solely about the bottom line,” Litvack said. “This is about you.”

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Nate Sorenson

Students from Universities across the State marched into the Capitol Building to encourage legislators to lower tuition costs.